So…a while back I had a brilliant idea. I was sure it would be a hit. The idea came to me one day as I was working on a Christmas arrangement for several of my students. Six of my students wanted to play on ensemble for the Christmas recital. They had played a Patriotic ensemble this summer and loved it and wanted to work on something else as a group. I thought it was a great idea and set about to find something for them. Haha. There was nothing to be found. There were several trios – mostly too easy. There is a good selection of 2 piano/8 hand music, but that would be too hard to adapt for six players. But I could find nothing for 2 piano/12 hand at an intermediate level that would work for the Christmas recital. My students told me I just needed to write something for them. Against my better judgment, I agreed. 🙂 I wrote an arrangement of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing with Away in A Manger. They loved it! They played it beautifully.

Anyway…back to my brilliant idea. I thought it would be wonderful if there was a website dedicated to making available for others all the compositions and arrangements by teachers and others who compose and arrange a little here and there, but probably won’t ever seriously pursue being published (like me :-)). It would be a marketplace of sorts where teachers could set up a little store for themselves and sell their compositions and arrangements to others who might be looking for that very piece or instrumentation or combination, etc. Of course, the site would be set up in a very clean and organized manner to make it easy for visitors to search the site and find what they are looking for. Thousands of people would contribute and could make a little bit of money selling their scores or they could offer them for free for the pure enjoyment of knowing that others around the world could enjoy the fruit of their labors. And the site operator(s) could take a small cut of all the sales to cover the cost of running the site and make some money on the side. Doesn’t that sound like a brilliant idea to you? Well, apparently it did to the folks over at Sibelius Music too because they beat me to it! I came across their site the other day and couldn’t believe how much it resembled what I had envisioned. So much for that idea…

Boasting the availability of 61,633 scores to date, Sibelius Music is chock-full of compositions and arrangements for nearly every instrumentation and genre you can think of. You can view, play, download and print whatever you want right from their site. And many of the pieces listed are offered free of charge. They even offer the option for composers/arrangers to set up their own store and house it right there on their server.

The site is so vast, it feels very overwhelming and somewhat complicated to find what you’re looking for. First time users should definitely stop by the information page to help alleviate these feelings! For those interested in selling their own scores, head on over to the FAQ page for sellers. The Sibelius Music folks seem to have thought of everything. The only problem is that I’m not a Sibelius user. I’m a Finale user. So, who wants to start a site like this for Finale users? 🙂

European and American Music and Christianity

[Natalie’s Note: Mike Ellis is at it again – researching and writing on facets of music that often go unexplored by music teachers. In this article, he discusses some interesting correlations and raises some thought-provoking questions. If you haven’t checked out his Know Chords website, I highly recommend it. Mike has a way of presenting theory concepts in a way that is concise and easy to understand. His articles are great reading for music students and for teachers looking for good ways to communicate musical concepts and principles to their students. Enjoy his latest article!]

European and American Music and Christianity

By Mike Ellis © 2006

We know, or should know, that the music of Europe and America is not the only music in the world. Many different cultures have their own concepts of music and their own representations of it. We use music based on the diatonic major scale. Other cultures do not. I recently began research into why we use a twelve-note scale. The European music that was eventually brought to America is based on the chromatic scale having twelve tones (the sharp of a note being the same as the flat of the following note):

Scale Image

Going further would cause you to repeat the A note which is already shown. Delving into why we use this method, I discovered the supposed creator of our twelve-note scale. I say supposed only because this could possibly be refuted. However, in my search of the Internet, I found an article on, by a Mr. Howard Goodall, that reads:

“Man’s relationship with music is rooted in nature. The ancient Greeks first started arranging notes into scales to create a pattern, and it was the mathematician Pythagoras (c580-500 BC) who created the first real scale. His invention had a profound effect on early western music. He was passing a blacksmith’s forge one day when he noticed the sounds of the metal being hammered and realised that the hammering made different regular notes. When he weighed the hammers, he discovered that they were all ratios of each other. The first was half the size of the next and another was two-thirds the size of the first, and so on. This demonstrated natural harmonics. One note played on, for example, a metal bar can produce many harmonics (higher notes). A bar half the size will produce a note an octave higher. A bar two-thirds the size will produce a note a fifth higher (the dominant note). The ratio of two-thirds is a naturally harmonious relationship in mathematics and it was this that caught Pythagoras’ attention. He was also a mystic who believed that the universe made its own music by the movement of the planets. He felt music would be more powerful and mystical if it obeyed the natural laws of physics, so he set about making a scale of notes by dividing metal into simple ratios, thus creating a spiral of notes. However, when he came to the thirteenth note of the scale, he realised that it was slightly different to the first one and when the two were played together, the result sounded awful. This problem was later to be called ‘the Pythagorean comma’. The notes were not equally apart all the way up the spiral. Pythagoras’ solution was simply to abandon the thirteenth note and he was left with a twelve-note scale. To play safe, musicians kept to the first seven notes of the scale and along with the original note they had an octave. The average instrument could only cope with six notes anyway, and even up until the late thirteenth century music was kept as simple as possible.

Church music, however, required more sophistication, so composers introduced other lines to create more interesting sounds.”

Note that in the text, above, it mentions “natural harmonics,” a “naturally harmonious relationship in mathematics,” and the “natural laws of physics.” The twelve-note system seems to be inspired by nature. Also, it mentions the “first seven notes of the scale.” If you look at the list of notes above the quote, you will see that there are seven “natural” notes, being A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. We’ll come back to this later. Keep the number seven in mind.

What does all this have to do with Christianity? Pythagoras lived a half-century before Christ. This is true. But this is just the beginning. If we go to the calendar, we see twelve months. This is due to Julius Caesar’s calendar devised in 45 BC, chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year. Again, the number twelve appears in the scheme of natural occurrences. Pope Gregory XIII, a church figure, later modified this calendar in 1582. The European calendar has twelve months in it, as decreed by the Roman Catholic Church, even though the original twelve-month calendar was devised before Christ. Keep the number twelve in mind also.

The most common group of notes in European music is the major triad. This triad is the three notes containing the Root, 3rd and 5th notes of the diatonic (or seven note) scale. This is also the most pleasing and naturally harmonious grouping of notes in European music. It can be said that all other chords are either variations of the major chord, additions to the major chord, or additions to its variations (see – password access required). In this context, the major chord is the source chord of all other chords, the basis of all chordal harmony. The importance cannot be understated.

And so, what does all this have to do with Christianity? Let’s examine some “coincidental” facts.

The European calendar has twelve months, the European clock has twelve hours, the tribes of Israel numbered twelve, there were twelve disciples of Christ, and there are twelve notes in our scale.

There are seven days in our week, there were seven days of creation, the seven candlesticks are mentioned numerous times in the Bible, and there are seven natural notes in our diatonic major scale.

Christianity embodies the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Christ rose on the third day, and our most important source grouping of notes is the major triad.

These may all be coincidental, but they may also not be. It is at least interesting food for thought, especially if you are a Christian, but even if you are not.

One other note should really be presented here. That is that there are only twelve notes, and only seven (not eight) notes of the major scale. No matter how many ways you want to arrange and rearrange these, and no matter how complex scholars want to make the study of music, the “created” complexities you will find in researching European-based music is staggering when compared to the simple twelve notes. It really doesn’t have to be that way. Just ask the medieval minstrels and troubadours, who sang simple stories, much like the Beatles’ songs. By the way, the Beatles were the most successful musical artists of the twentieth century.

[Natalie’s Note: After I read Mike’s article, I immediately thought of the following passage in the Bible:

For by [Jesus Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether
they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Colossians 1:16-17

Music certainly qualifies as a creation invisible to the eye, albeit profoundly felt by the soul. I find all the correlations Mike presents to be indicative of the great care and order taken by the Creator of the universe when He set about to make music a part of His incredible design. While we cannot hope to fully comprehend all of its complexities, we experience the beauty of His musical design in our everyday lives.]